How Dry I Am: Day 2 of Ramadan

 

A series of posts reflecting on my first Ramadan. Here’s why I decided to do it.

The overwhelming sensation I’ve had so far during this Ramadan fast is dryness of mouth, which is appropriate, since the word “Ramadan” comes from an Arabic word meaning “scorching heat” or “dryness.”

It doesn’t help that temperatures reached 106 degrees here either, but fortunately, I didn’t have to spend much time outside.

My imam friend, Yaseen, had mentioned that we clergy-types did have it easy in this regard: “We get to stay in our offices most of the day,” he had told me on Thursday. “Which makes me feel sorry for those Muslims who have to work outdoors.”

Or for Muslims who live on the margins of society, in whatever countries or lands they live in. To observe Ramadan is to accept an additional hardship on behalf of one’s religious commitment.

But that is what fasting is all about. It’s a self-imposed hardship.

A friend on Facebook commented on my first post that he didn’t understand the point of fasting: “Eat healthy and minimally and there you have a great diet and cleansing. I don’t understand why anyone would cease to eat altogether. If you feel hungry or thirsty, your body is telling you to eat and drink. I don’t understand why anyone would suggest denying your body what it needs.”

In one sense, my friend is exactly right. The body tells us when we need to eat and drink. The appetites are natural, healthy, and necessary. Why would one want to deny the obviously normal and healthy desires of the body?

The answer has to do with the realization that there is a deeper reality that lies beneath and within the biological basis of life. Human beings are not simply a bag of skin and bones, a composition of genes and chromosomes, a mass of fluids. We are not only or merely animals.

We are souls. We are spirits. We have the very image of God imprinted in us. In fact, that is what defines us, that is what gives us our identity and marks us as sacred beings.

And so the practice of fasting is a way of reconnecting with our dignity as created beings.

When I fast, I am making the statement – to myself and to the world around me – that I am more than my appetites, more than my desires and urges. I am spirit and I am soul; I am loved and forgiven by a God who cannot be seen, but whose reign of peace and justice is slowly and inevitably coming into being.

In a sense, it is truly a bold, revolutionary kind of statement, because it requires faith in things which cannot be seen.

As a Christian, I can also reflect on Jesus’ words: “I am the bread of life” and “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.”

Right now, it is the acute awareness of thirst that is making its mark on me. After all, I live in a context where potable water is always available to me. All I have to do is turn on a faucet, or press a button on a machine. In a normal day, I am rarely, if ever, truly thirsty.

Now I do.

Now I really do understand the appeal of not-being-thirsty-ever-again.

Now I can make the jump from the visceral feeling of dryness to the spiritual sensation of dryness. I can make the connection, and I crave, not only a Dr. Pepper Big Gulp, but a liberal dose of divine mercy.

Here’s another way to put it: sometimes I read the Psalms and they seem utterly foreign to me. Take Psalm 70, for example, which I read early this morning before sunrise. The Psalmist is crying to be rescued from his enemies. He complains, “I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God!”

These deliverance psalms always seem to come from a very distant time and place. I don’t have enemies who are out to kill me; I am hardly poor and needy; I am not desperately waiting for God to save me … from anything.

But this is the trap. As soon as I convince myself that all is well, and that I am self-sufficient, then I suddenly discover that … I really am poor and needy, I live and move and have my being thanks to the sheer mercy of God.

Times of fasting are a way to reconnect to this dependence on God. I am humbled again by my utter weakness as a human being, dependent on water and bread for biological survival. I see myself for who I really am – one human on a planet of several billion humans, each one equally valued and precious to God.

And I throw myself once again on God’s mercy, love and compassion.

If fasting accomplishes nothing else, it makes me thirsty. Thirsty for God.

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17 comments

  1. Jan Nelson

    “Saudi authorities warned nonMuslim foreigners on Friday, the first day of Ramadan, not to eat, drink, or smoke in public until the end of the Muslim holy month or face expulsion.” That’s one of the problems I have with a state supported religion……believe this way or be punished. And the nonbelievers better toe the line too. As a woman, I REALLY have a problem with the treatment of women within Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. So observing Ramadan will not be high on my bucket list.

    • Rev. Melissa Booth

      While not facing expulsion from the US, I’m sure that Jewish, Muslim and other non Christians are less than thrilled at being bombarded with six months of Christmas Decorations. Yes, some stores already have them up! It is a constant reminder that “they” are not one of “us”–you know “real Americans” who celebrate Christmas or shouldn’t complain if it is shoved down their throat.

    • wesmagruder

      Jan, I totally agree with you on the state v. religion point, as well as with your general concern about the treatment of women in some Islamic countries. However, not every country with a majority Muslim population mistreats women.

    • abdul latif

      Ma’am I understan your concern regarding the Ramadan warning and treatment of women. I am an Indian and living in Saudi arabia for the past 19 years. Saudis are a very minuscule minority when you consider there are nearly two billion muslims on our planet. And I Know many saudis who treat their women really well. The ramadan warning is issued is really tactless, what saudis are saying is Ramadan is holy, please respect it.

    • myopic vision

      How do you feel that women are treated? In Saudi Arabia, Islam is the main and only recognized religion and it makes sense that they would wish to impose their rules on the general population. Any one that lives and works there has already made an agreement to follow the laws as we all do when we enter a new land in search of whatever it is we are searching for. As a woman who lived in Saudi Arabia, I can assure you that I was treated very well.

    • Dallas Islam Examiner

      Saudi Arabia is not representative of the true Islamic law tradition, especially when it comes to treating women. Historically and since the seventh century until about 200 years ago, Muslim women have enjoyed a high status based on Islamic shariah law: they contributed to society and had important roles in the public sector. However, as more non-Arabic communities turned to Islam, they brought with them their cultural baggages, including seclusion and oppression of women, which unfortunately became mistakingly observed as “Islamic” in many Muslim cultures till this day. That is totally unislamic!

    • Janinne

      Jan Nelson:
      Please don’t base your opinion-although you have a right to one-on media and their poor coverage of Islamic Countries. There’s good and bad in all religions and cultures. As an American Muslim, I am living in a predominantly Christian country. I was born and raised here and every year during the months of September through January, I am exposed to Christmas music, decorations, the holiday rush, etc., for something I don’t observe. Yet respect. This blog isn’t to leave hatefule comments. It is to open your mind and your heart to something. Please don’t judge when the Greatest of Judges is in fact Judging you. God Bless.

    • Umm Abdullah

      This warning about not eating or drinking in public is for anyone – Muslim or not. There are also Muslims who don’t fast for various reasons. It’s the same in Kuwait, although I don’t know if you would be deported. I was not Muslim when I first came to Kuwait to work, and not being able to eat or drink in public didn’t bother me, (Restaurants are closed during the day, but you can buy food in grocery stores, and you can eat in private. In the government ministry offices where I worked, the smokers – including some Muslims unfortunately – had a room hidden away somewhere where they snuck off for a cigarette.)

  2. Gazza

    I am a Muslim and I do not like the way Saudi Arabia treats women. Please do not judge Islam or Muslims by the behaviour of this small minority. As for warning people not to eat in public during the day it is common not to in Muslim countries. In Malaysia you do not face expulsion and restaurants are open during the day even though they have a much reduced clientèle of non-Muslim customers. It is however considered impolite to eat in public during daylight hours so most avoid it.

  3. Shawna

    I am Muslim also. Personally, I would think it would just be a sign of respect to not eat in front of somebody who’s fasting, but there shouldn’t be punishment for it. Also, as an American, I don’t expect others to change their habits. Most people are tactful enough that if they know, they eat out of sight and scent. Regardless… I wanted to mention another thing that was pointed out to me with fasting. Some people in the world do not have access to food any time they’re hungry, and ditto for water. Fasting also reminds us to think more of those less fortunate, and to know what it is like to go without. And kudos to you for fasting too 🙂 Something I’ve found that helps, when it seems most unbearable, and like I can’t fast any longer… take a prayer break.

  4. Azmat

    Mr. Pastor (Sorry I dont know your name)
    I am impressed by your viewpoint and your eloquence about it. I have been fasting all my life but its refreshing to see it from a different angle.

  5. Dallas Islam Examiner

    Rev. Wess,
    Thank you for writing about how it feels to be Muslim fasting Ramadan in America! Your posts not only serve as bridge builders in our interfaith community, but inspire a lot of Muslims who may not exactly feel as spiritual as you do when fasting. In other words, thank you for mentoring many Muslims about the spiritual merits of the fast.

  6. Menaz

    very interesting to read.. i will look forward tp your posts indeed they give a different view to the whole experience of spirituality in Ramadhan.. May allah protect you..

  7. Ayse

    Hello Mr. Pastor,

    I just want to share this about nafs (ego) & fasting.

    “God Almighty said to the instinctual soul: ‘What am I and what are you?’
    The soul replied: ‘I am myself and You are Yourself.’
    So He punished it and cast it into Hell, then asked it again.
    Again it replied: ‘I am myself and You are Yourself.’

    However He punished it, it did not give up its egoism. Finally He punished it with hunger. That is, He left it hungry.

    Then again He asked it: ‘Who am I and who are you?’

    And the soul replied: ‘You are my Compassionate Sustainer and I am your impotent slave.'”

  8. Ayse

    I think with fasting one is understanding his impotense and his weakness and his needs which makes us slave of God.

    One should not be slave of his own ego but slave of Almighty God. When we are slave of our own ego ; we like to do whatever our ego wants us to do. Eat drink live and do whatever you like to do. My ego doesn’t want to obey anything but himself.

    We are weak and God is strong. We are impotent and God almighty is taking care of us all the time . We are needy , we are poor, even this body is not ours , this body from God. We have nothing but faults (of our false leading ego.) When we see ourselves full of faults and when we understand that we are weak ;
    we may recognize Lord of the universe and nothingness of our ownselves and locate ourselves in the relation of God versus slave of God. This can only be known with the help of fasting and prayers which put one’s ego down below zero.

    I think this observation of ramadan fasting of yours Mr. Pastor; is a big success. From second day you did understand your own self ego which only wants to worship himself not the Creature of all universe.

  9. Pingback: A Pastor Teaches us about the Essence of Fasting in Ramadan | muzlimbuzz

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